Composting is the natural process of decomposition of organic material into a rich soil amendment. Composting helps to reduce the amount of organic materials being thrown out in the trash. Studies indicate that most household garbage contains about 25% organic, compostable material! This includes, but is not limited to, fruit, vegetables, pasta, bread, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells, and shredded paper.
The following town transfer stations host a food waste/organics collection for their town residents: Bernardston, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Leverett, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Shelburne, Warwick, Wendell, and Whately. In addition, any District resident can bring organic waste to the Greenfield Transfer Station's food waste carts, after paying the $5 host fee per visit. Here is a yes/no list for accepted materials and an article about these programs.
If you don't have access to a drop-off food waste program, you may consider backyard composting. Backyard composting is easy and affordable. In fact, it may save you money in the long run by reducing the amount you pay to dispose of your trash. Yard wastes such as leaves and grass clippings can be used as well as food scraps.
The District sells Earth Machine compost bins. The Earth Machine compost bin is rodent-resistant and has a capacity of 11 cubic feet. It has a sliding door at the bottom for removing compost and a locking lid. It is made from post-consumer recycled plastic. The Earth Machine is not bear-proof.
Earth Machine compost bins are available to all District residents for $65. Residents of Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Leverett, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Shelburne, Wendell, and Whately may purchase a compost bin for $25 through a subsidized pricing incentive provided by these towns.
The District also sells Sure Close kitchen compost pails for $5. These are versatile collection pails for under the sink or even the counter-top. They are dishwasher safe and includ post-consumer recycled plastic content.
There are several locations that sell Earth Machines. Subsidized compost bins are available at the District's office, at the Gill Town Hall for Gill residents, at the Orange Transfer Station for Orange residents, and at WRATS for Wendell residents.
The Earth Machine and Benefits of Composting
The Earth Machine compost bin helps hold in heat and moisture, keeps animals out, and looks more attractive than an open compost pile. Organic material will start to turn to compost in the bin in 3 to 6 months. Compost, known as "black gold" to gardeners, replenishes nutrients in the soil, helps retain moisture, makes the soil easy to work, and helps plants resist disease. Compost makes plants healthy so they can overcome adverse conditions without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.
Whether you choose to purchase a backyard compost bin or create your own bin, your compost bin or pile should consist of three parts “brown” material and one part “green” material. This provides food for the compost organisms in a recipe that will not create odors. “Brown” ingredients include fall leaves, straw, dried grass clippings, wood chips, sawdust, pine needles, and shredded paper products such as napkins, bags, plates, coffee filters, tissue and newspaper. “Green” materials include fresh grass clippings, weeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, manure, and seaweed. Make sure the materials are damp as you build the pile, especially the “browns.” As you build the pile, sprinkle on several shovels full of rich garden soil or finished compost after every 12” of fresh material.
Leaves are an important ingredient of any composting effort. Without them, your compost may become too wet and create odors. If you have leaves available, use them to start your compost pile and save the rest to add during the summer. Compostable food scraps and grass clippings should be buried under about 6" of leaves, where they will decompose without odor. If leaves are in short supply, add plenty of shredded paper towels, napkins and torn up paper bags to provide the necessary carbon, and always bury your food scraps under this material.
Most of the composting work is done by soil organisms that convert organic material to humus. They need oxygen, just as we do. Lack of oxygen will slow down the composting process and cause odors. The Earth Machine allows air to penetrate the pile. If you have a home-made compost pile, periodically turn your pile, fluff it with a hoe or turning tool, or build air passages into the pile to keep your compost pile aerobic and odor-free.
In about three months, the material will start to turn to compost. The material at the bottom of the pile will be ready first. As more time goes by, the level of compost in the pile will rise until it is easy to access just below the surface. You will know your compost is ready to use when it looks like rich, brown soil and no longer resembles the original materials.
Compost benefits all plants, and there are many different ways to use it. Add a handful of compost to each transplant hole when planting seedlings or potted plants. Spread another handful on the surface of the soil around the newly planted seedling, making sure that the compost is not touching the stem or trunk of the plant. Spread compost as a mulch around perennials, shrubs and other existing plantings. If you are planting seeds, apply one-half to three inches of compost and mix it in with the top four inches of soil in the seedbed. To rejuvenate lawns, screen your compost using 1⁄2” screening. Sprinkle the screened compost on the lawn about 1⁄4” deep. Screened compost is also excellent for reseeding lawns. Sprinkle it 1⁄2” deep over the bare spots and distribute new grass seed on top. You can even make excellent potting soil with compost by mixing equal parts compost, sand, and loam.